Universal Basic Income — The Foundation of a Technically Advanced Society, PART TWO
My post last week about UBI has garnered a lot of interest, not only on Medium, but when I first posted the article back in June 2015 on IEET, it had over 50,000 hits! In addition, it was shared across the internet, including the Basic Income Reddit thread. One thing has become very clear to me — that of all the topics I’ve blogged about on eHumanity, Universal Basic Income is the one on everybody’s minds. Several readers reached out to me, both for and (a few) against the concept. These interactions led me to write about the idea once more, this time focusing on some key items that came up: demographics, feasibility and housing.
On the demographics front, I found that most of the big supporters of UBI are millennials and younger. This isn’t surprising, as they have the most to lose if we do nothing about the rising costs of being alive in the US, and the least to lose if we do change our economic policies from scarcity to abundance. Millennials have come of age in a terrible job market combined with huge student debt. Many of them live at home because they lack the basic income needed to launch an adult life. Their earnings-to-debt ratios define them as a group. They’ll also be the ones to watch the job market automate completely — more than 40% of them will be replaced by robots before the age of retirement. Our future depends on this group of individuals, yet they need more than a lucky break if they’re going to enter their mid-life as secure adults. It’s no wonder that they support UBI, regardless of political background. From conservatives to liberals, our twenty-and-thirty-somethings are searching for new ways to build the world they’ll inherit. Universal Basic Income, combined with technology, is not simply appealing, but necessary.
Yet how feasible is UBI? Readers on both Medium and Reddit pointed out that my suggested $30K per US adult would be twice our current budget! Yes, you’re correct. I purposefully did NOT look at the current economic system when coming up with that number. Instead, I looked at how much a person would need to afford shelter, food and health care, in the majority of market spaces in the US. Why would I do this? Because we can never evolve out of our situation if we remain focused on CAN’T. We must use our imaginations and find a way to overcome it. So I started with what we need, and from there we shall create a world where our needs are met.
The US Government poverty guideline for a single household for 2015 is $11,770. This guideline is used for determining whether or not you qualify for SNAP, welfare, Head Start and a host of other programs. The point of UBI is to rid ourselves of having to qualify or prove that we lack our basic needs. Instead, our needs are covered and we can turn our efforts towards bettering our lives beyond that, if we so choose.
Some recommended a UBI of $12K, with an increase of $4K a year per child, but that means you still need government help to get that roof over your head and see the doctor, and eat, as well as leaving us in the strange situation where having a ton of kids in order to increase your income is desirable. Yes, $30K is twice that, but actually it turns out I wasn’t far off. Numbeo.com puts the minimum monthly income to survive in the US at $2,642.30, or $31,704 annually, after taxes. **note this actually includes clothing, utilities, transportation, etc.**
However, in order to meet the needs of a family, a household will need more than that, if we continue to run our economy the way we currently do. A reader gave me a fantastic link called the Living Wage Calculator. I casually selected Dallas County, Alabama, assuming that a living wage for a family of four can’t be too high in that market. I was surprised to discover that the Living Wage Calculator suggested that a family of four with one adult working would need $47,175 before taxes and in a family of four with both working $55,181. (Childcare eats up the paycheck.) **note, the expenses tracked in this number are housing, childcare, medical, food, transportation and a small amount of other.**
However, if two people, each with a UBI of $30K live together, they easily cover this and can lessen the burden. Which makes sense. And then either parent can pursue a career, not because the kids will starve if they don’t, but because they have the freedom to so.
Thus, if this is what’s needed, then the next step is to see how to implement it. It’s obvious that currently we don’t collect enough money to redistribute it in this way. Not that there isn’t money — the military budget could be halved in order to contribute to the UBI fund. Why? Because poverty is a national security issue. Too many hungry adults and the balance of order will turn to chaos. As Bob Marley said, “A hungry man is an angry man.” In an age of increasing income equality paired with technological unemployment, it’s important to shut down our ridiculous overseas military industrial complex and take care of our own.
In addition, for UBI to be true, most current government aid programs would no longer need to exist. From age 18 until death, you have this safety net to invest, spend or fritter away. Yes, there will still be a need for services that help the ill and disabled find care and facilities, but in general, combining UBI with single payer health care will allow the dismantling of the rest of what some like to call, entitlement programs, funneling all the monies from these assistance programs, including social security, into UBI for all over 18. These agencies are chock full of administrative bloat, and yes that means a lot of government workers will be without jobs, but UBI can help them with that transition.
Yet even with these two key changes in current government spending, there is still a deficit between what it takes to provide shelter, food and health care for all, and the monies collected from workers in the new economy to support it. One suggestion I’ve seen is to tax business owners for every job they automate. Yes, they’ll still get a cost reduction over time by replacing the expensive human with a robot, but a portion of that ROI can be taxed directly to go in the UBI fund as a way to care for the technologically unemployed. Thus rather than increase taxes on the wage earners that are left, taxes are levied on those who’ll benefit the most from technological unemployment — business itself.
In the end though, in order for us to truly take care of one another, we need a new story about money. The entire economic system may need an overhaul, and this is what scares people the most.
It’s not just the 1% who fear the overhaul. It’s anyone who owns a home, pension plan or 401K. If we’re going to make UBI possible, it will require rethinking housing, land ownership, and money.
Approximately 30% of our income each month goes towards paying for housing. Land ownership has made this the most volatile of costs, for as the housing market rises and falls, so do rents and the cost of living, making it very difficult for wages to keep up. While health care and food costs do vary from state to state, it’s housing that really drives the cost of living in any marketplace. For example, the minimum hourly wage needed to afford a two-bedroom apartment in California is $26.02, but in Illinois the amount is $16.78. The reasons for the inflation are many, however most people find that they can’t make enough, even in Illinois, to afford shelter. UBI would help close this gap and make housing a given, rather than the most stressful part of paying the bills.
In lieu of UBI, there are movements to create affordable housing in the US. Tiny Home projects, like the Emerald Village, aim to help get low income folks into a home. This idea really isn’t new, the housing projects of the 70’s and 80’s attempted to do just this. Yet many low income housing projects turned into high-crime high-rises, rather than clean, safe housing. There are many reasons for this, but at its heart is the land ownership issue — how can the government create affordable housing for the struggling yet still guarantee that the housing market doesn’t tank? UBI helps in that the government stays out of the housing market and supply and demand take over. Tiny, affordable houses can be purchased by those who desire them, and McMansions can still spring up right next door.
The Venus Project also tries to overcome these issues by combining technology with the idea of inexpensive, affordable, sustainable communities in order to grant shelter, food and health care to all. I firmly believe that if we allow technology to work for us, rather than only for the bottom line, we could reduce the amount of money it takes to build shelter, raise food and provide health care. And that reduction would make it possible to fund UBI at a national level. But once again, the story of money must change in order for these ideas to be liberated.
Since land ownership began, humanity has fallen into to classes — land lords and serfs. We’ve used our brilliant minds to create a system where some thrive while most barely get by. It surprises me that we haven’t moved on yet, that still so many suffer. What is the point of consciousness, if not to figure out the puzzle of abundance? Why chain ourselves to scarcity, when it just isn’t necessary?
In their book, Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think, authors Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler focus the bottom billion people — our brothers and sisters in the Third World who live on less than $2 a day. Ironically, with advances is technology, these bottom billion are now considered the rising billion. They aren’t mired in the world of Wall Street finance, minimum wage wars and debt, like the working poor of America. Instead, they barely get by at all. Yet in this huge poverty vacuum, there is space for 3D printed houses, solar powered electricity, water-less toilets, Lab-On-A-Chip medical technology and cheap smartphones. Combined with microfinance and technophilanthropy, the bottom billion might just have a fighting chance.
Thus it seems that the technical advancement of the Third World will eventually grant them a guaranteed basic income. The two really do go hand-in-hand.
Wouldn’t it be ironic if America becomes the nation left behind?
Nicole Sallak Anderson is a novelist, mother, futurist and speaker living in the Santa Cruz Mountains. She’s the author of the eHuman Dawn and eHuman Deception, both available on Amazon. You can check her out here on Medium, on Twitter @NSallakAnderson or her blog www.ehumandawn.blogspot.com. Leave a comment, she’ll answer.